Vellum: A new app for creating ebooks

Some developers who’ve left Pixar have developed an app for creating ebooks for Kindles, iPads and Nooks. Vellum itself is free. Publishing from it is $50 for one book, less in quantity. Yes, that’s “real money,” but if you’ve invested hundreds of hours in that book, making it look good is worth that and more.

It is ebook only. For those who aren’t publishing on paper, it might be worth looking into. You can download it from here.

It even has a Scrivener-like UI with chapters in a binder called a Navigator. You can use drag-and-drop to rearrange chapters. If they’d allow sections/scenes under that in the Navigator, it would acquire a tiny bit of Scriverner’s organizational capabilities, which would be great. You could rearrange scenes in an instant inside Vellum.

The big negative is that it assumes writers will be using Word for their drafts. You can write and edit inside it, but the developers ought to add Markdown import for the growing number of those who like to write in text editors rather than out-sized word processors.

This is version 1.0, so there’s not an abundance of features. It should be fine for most fiction, but still lacks what I want most, the ability to add pop-up notes in iBooks style. I’ve got a couple of dozen books that I could convert to digital if there were a non-ugly way to handle endnotes.

I happen to think there’s a lot of potential in pop-up notes even for fiction writers. Image reading a murder mystery twice, the first time with notes hidden and the second time with them revealed so the author can point out where he inserted clues.

Unlike iBooks Author, Vellum designed for books heavy in text. In fact, I couldn’t even find a way in this version 1.0, to add a graphic. And unlike IBA, you can export files for iDevices, Kindles, and Nooks. No restriction there as long as you pay their fee. It’s one-app ebook publishing

If you’re an ebook-only writer of non-complex books and want to reduce the hassle of creating ebooks down to an minimum but still make them look good, you might want to give Vellum a try. If you like the UI in Scrivener, you’ll find this one pleasantly similar.

–Michael W. Perry, author of My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer

Hi Michael,

Brad from 180g here. I’m one of the creators of Vellum. Thanks for noticing our product and posting about it. We created Vellum because we knew a lot of authors had trouble creating great-looking eBooks, especially in multiple formats. We’ve put a lot of effort into making that process something that can be quick and simple.

With any 1.0 release, you need to leave out some features, or else you never get it out the door. That meant decisions like focusing on one import format. Word is not our favorite software either, but the truth is that it is the most popular, so we started there. One of the many things we’re doing now is looking for feedback to help us prioritize future work. That includes possibilities such as supporting other formats like Markdown, larger features such as image support, and details like pop-ups, too. We can’t make promises about when we can deliver these, but we are listening, and we believe a lot of authors will be able to take advantage of what Vellum offers today.

Thanks again for the post.

Brad, a very promising start. Go on with this more-than-needed software!


Pratchett springs to mind here.

Is that $50 each time you publish a different book, or is it $50 if you publish a new revision of the same book?

That is a shame, but at least Scrivener can export to Word.

What does Vellum do in terms of ebook output that Scrivener doesn’t?

The fee activates eBook generation for a particular book. Once you activate eBook generation, you can continue to edit your text, generate, and regenerate (only the title and author are locked). So if you’re halfway done with your book and you want to build something out, you can do that. That’s nice if you want to send early copies out to beta readers or just send something out to friends to get feedback. And of course even after you’ve submitted your book you can come back to fix any typos pointed out by your readers.

Well, let’s start with what Vellum doesn’t do. Vellum has an integrated text editor so that you can make edits, and as a point of illustration we’ll sometimes mention that you could theoretically write a book from scratch in Vellum. But this really isn’t Vellum’s focus. For the writing process, Vellum has nowhere near the set of tools that Scrivener does.

Vellum’s focus is making it very easy to create great-looking ebooks. It ships with a number of styles that you can very quickly browse through and experiment with, all of which you can see right on the device in our preview. And Vellum takes care of all the ins and outs of typesetting a book, from little things like getting the indentation right when considering first paragraphs, to fun things like drop caps.

If you’ve got a good handle on book design standards, you want to design your own book, and you’re savvy with HTML and CSS, it may not be the tool for you. But for authors who’ve previously had to choose between just plain formatting and hiring a professional formatter, we think we offer a pretty nice solution.

As I mentioned earlier, as Vellum evolves, we’ll continue to investigate new formats to import. Given the popularity of Word, that it uses a (somewhat) open file format, and that so many non-Word packages can write out a docx file, that was where we pretty much had to start.